For more than a century, automotive manufacturers have focused their engineering efforts on making vehicles faster, more powerful, and easier to drive, while the passenger experience received only modest improvements. However, now that automakers are developing fully autonomous vehicles that don’t require a full-time driver, integrated audio and video solutions that improve the passenger experience are – and even more so will become – central to buyers’ decision-making process.
China has been one of the most important markets for Dirac ever since we launched the first Dirac-enabled Chinese smartphone in cooperation with OPPO in 2012. Today, Dirac is the market leader in smartphone audio in China – providing audio optimization solutions for more than 10 manufacturers. While our breakthrough algorithms are well known in China’s mobile sector, we see great growth potential in the country’s other vertical markets including automotive, VR/AR and professional home audio.
As part of a new Dirac Blog Series, we’re interviewing members of the audio and technology community about their lives, inspirations, and their passion for all things audio-related.
In our first installment of this series, we’re speaking with acclaimed music producer and songwriter Rami Yacoub. Rami began his professional career working with his Cheiron Studio’s production partner Max Martin on acts such as Britney Spears, NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and more. He has since collaborated with many other artist, including One Direction, Nicki Minaj, Tiesto, AVICII, and Madonna, amongst many others.
In 2008, Rami launched his own Los Angeles and Stockholm-based production group, Kinglet Studios. In 2017, Rami joined forces with Dirac Research as an investor, music industry consultant, and a proud advocate for the advancement of audio optimization both in the music production industry and beyond.
Perhaps no industry is undergoing as dramatic a disruption as the automotive industry, as many manufacturers are transitioning from traditional automobile companies to, shall we say, mobile-entertainment-on-wheels companies.
That was clearly apparent at the recently-concluded Beijing Auto Show as automakers from around world gathered amid the swirling and industry-altering winds of change this market is experiencing. The show’s 2018 theme Steering to a New Era was most certainly apropos as information and communication technology are presenting unprecedented opportunities in today’s automotive space.
The 2018 Mobile World Congress has come and gone. Dirac was in attendance once again this year, and we left the event filled with a very promising feeling. And not at all thanks to the weather—which turned out to be the worst ever since we started attending the event back in 2006—but thanks to all the great people we had the pleasure of meeting, along with the equally great meetings we held with partners, journalists, and potential customers.
As some of you may have noticed, things are happening with Dirac Live. We announced a brand new mobile version (for Android and iOS) at Cedia back in September, and in December we announced a new version of the PC based calibration tools (for Windows and OS X). So far so good. But we haven’t really said much about the hows and the whys, and what it all means for existing customers. Thus, the following was written with the intent of clearing up as many questions as possible.
More than two weeks after attending CES in Las Vegas and one thing remains on my mind: Cars.
So, you’re going to buy a new smartphone. What will you go for? A year ago, the must-have features on your list might have included: thin, lightweight, good camera, powerful chip, decent ROM&RAM, and great sound. Today, you would probably add to that a dual rear camera and large screen-to-body ratio. Yes, dual rear camera and large screen-to body ratio are some of the hot trends—among others such as face recognition, augmented reality and finger sensor—which, according to experts, will sweep over the smartphone industry in 2018.
Designing a sound system for a car has a different success formula than designing a sound system for a living room. In a car, neither the loudspeakers or the people listening to them can be placed precisely according to the standard. Consequently, when listening to a recording, the stereo information is likely to be lost or, at least, severely distorted.
Here we will discuss the motivation and basic principles behind a Dirac technology called Dirac Virtual Center, which was developed to solve one of the classic problems in automotive sound system tuning: the near-side bias problem.
Let’s say you have quite a firm opinion about how you want your music to sound. You want it to sound clean and tonally well balanced with just enough bass—not too much. You want the center image to be right there, dead in the center no matter how you move or where you sit, and you want the sound stage to stay symmetrically within 30 degrees to each side of the center image.
Over the last decades there’s been a lot of research devoted to figuring out how to record a sound event and exactly reproduce the original sound field in a different location. So far, this has not been possible to achieve for sound reproduction in a consumer environment with a reasonable number of loudspeakers. However, recently we have seen a lot of innovation in spatial sound reproduction, with applications ranging from TV and cinema, to games and VR.
In today’s global business environment, the ability to work remotely offers a huge work life improvement and ultimately saves on travel and environmental costs. One thing still holding us back, however, is the lack of proper teleconferencing systems. Despite the various solutions available, attempting to work remotely and conduct conference calls with 5-10 people located in various places across the globe is a hugely disappointing and unproductive experience.
It wasn’t too long ago that portable audio meant blurry playback on a Walkman, and portable movies were, of course, completely unthinkable. Yet today we consume portable audio in all kinds of environments and for a range of different purposes— for music, games, audiobooks, GPS systems, audio assistants like Siri… the list goes on. And it's all delivered in the convenient package of a smartphone. For the longest time portable audio also necessitated the use of headphones, and this is still very much the case. The tiny speakers in smartphones, while significantly better than ten years ago, can only do so much. Sure, advanced signal processing has enabled improvements in output level and sound quality over the past few years, but watching a movie on a smartphone without headphones remains a less than massive audio experience. What’s the problem?
The Mobile World Congress (MWC) takes place in Barcelona every year. With over 100,000 exhibitors and visitors, it's by far the most important event in the industry. It also offers a key to understanding the trends of the future—not only in the mobile industry but in relation to how we live our lives. Mobile goes beyond mobile phones and everything you can think of is getting connected. Including some things you might not even imagine.
Background noise is an unavoidable nuisance. Whether it's produced by roaring excavators or hurried crowds at a train station, and whether it’s obscuring a voice message from your boss or a listening session with a Tchaikovsky waltz, it's always annoying. Given urbanization trends, our environments will likely only get noisier—with more people living closer together, and the proliferation of mobile sound systems providing a whole new palette of noises and disturbances which were not present in the listening scenarios of yesteryear.
Our flagship automotive technology Dirac Unison uses our most advanced signal processing methods, enabling speakers within a system to work together to optimally reproduce each input channel–something which was previously impossible in digital room correction. While it’s a product we’ve always been proud of, up until January this year, the prototype tuning tool that came with it was not. It definitely worked, and offered all the required settings. But it was hard to maintain, and far from user-friendly.
It’s hard not to write something after returning from an event like CES, which leaves you with so many inputs and impressions, it nearly blows your mind. The entire place is so packed with innovations and ideas, it's like the entire world’s waited all year just to reveal what they've been busy hatching up in the seclusion of their basement.
As I write this, I'm listening to a recording of Joss Stone. Her voice sounds completely natural, hovering in the air just a few meters in front of me, placed distinctly at the center of my sound system, remaining there regardless of how I move my head. I can almost touch the ambience of the recording. The low frequency extension is great, the room modes are extremely well controlled. The listening room is remarkably well treated, with just the right amount of air and sense of space, and without the annoyance of comb filters or spectral coloration. It’s treated so well, I don’t need digital room correction. This is an experience you can’t get without a HiFi and room treatment budget of at least $100,000 USD. The funny fact is this: I’m getting this experience with a pair of headphones. And the sound system I’m referring to? It’s a virtual one.
Have you ever wondered why music sounds so different on headphones compared to loudspeakers? It’s because, by design, headphones are not technically compatible with the stereophonic system. That isn’t to say you can’t still get great sound from headphones. Otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing the boom in headphone sales that we've been seeing the past few years (although it’s worth pointing out that some retail stores keep mirrors next to the headphone displays for customers who care more about looks than sound). In this post, I’ll be examining why music sounds different on headphones, and look into a technology that can upgrade headphone sound quality by several notches.
Ever since humankind started creating music, the means, or equipment, for doing so have often been prohibitively bulky. True, there exists many small musical instruments, but the ones that can produce sound of sufficient strength and volume are typically really, really large; and an ensemble playing multiple instruments at once requires a lot of space indeed.